Spine of the Fish  Day 31: A quick trip through the Kaimanawa

The food and energy get low as Oamaru Hut and bad weather near.

Boyd Hut to Oamaru Hut

Boyd Rocks and Boyd Hut

We didn’t have far to go so had a relaxed breakfast with Russ and Dave. The two had been hunting together since they’d ended up owning adjoining dairy farms near Waipu in Northland. They were both out of the dairy game and had returned to their previous occupations.

‘It’s not a sustainable business model anymore’, they both agreed.

Russ is a chippy and Dave and plumber. They both reckon there must be heaps of skilled hunters and trampers out there willing to give the struggling Department of Conservation a hand looking after its/our back country infrastructure.

Handily we were able to point them in the direction of the The Outdoor Recreation Consortium, a group that looks after and develops our backcountry assets so that the government doesn’t have to. (That’s the cynical way of looking at it.)

The other way of looking at it is to say that it’s a great way for real people with real skills and interests to take some ownership of a culture that is by rights theirs. The hut library even had an edition of an FMC Bulletin that featured one such project…a hut renovation. As they checked it out the builder and the plumber looked keen.

Before we left Dave got our contact details. Waipu is on the Te Araroa Trail near Whangarei. We’ll be heading their way eventually (not on this trip which will end in Auckland) and it looks like we may have a place to stay. Interestingly they both reckon that the trail has made a huge difference to their little community. 800 through-hikers went through this season and the place is starting to thrive as a result. Walkers are much more valuable to small towns than drivers. They’re hungrier and unable to head to the nearest big town for food and lodgings like motorised tourists.

We left them to their plans and made our way across the valley toward Oamaru Hut. The beech forest we entered as we climbed to the saddle that would take us down beside the Oamaru River was full of mature and very tall beech trees. They’d taken a big hit in recent times, but by the look of the ancient moss-covered logs lying everywhere it’s been a common occurrence for a few thousand years.

Storm damage

Horopito Forest

Sadly the undergrowth wasn’t much better than it had been throughout our time in the region. Regrowth is very poor and much of the forest floor is a dull broken mess of a place. Beech seedlings were rare and nothing else seemed to be making a go of it either…except for Pepper Trees – Horopito. The hot tasting leaf, that humans like to cook with, is not liked by deer and a thick undergrowth of the good-looking but dominating plant is starting to move into the forest in a thick swathe. Slowly the forest floor will darken and be smothered in the stuff.

This may be the beginning of some sort of healing for the forest, but it is clearly going to be a long slow process and deer browsing will always mean things will be unbalanced. Beech and Horipito does not make for a complete forest ecosystem.

Horopito

As we walked along what was an easy path we heard a familiar and demanding cry. North Island Robin – Toutouwai – have found the valley to be a bit of a haven. They were calling out for much of our day and came to visit whenever we stopped for a breather.

Would you like cheese on your crackers?

They’re curious and inquisitive and seem to come to humans so that that can feed on the disturbed earth we create with our scuffing. We figure they may have originally learnt this behaviour with Moa before our arrival. But don’t quote me…

Crossing the Ngararoro River for the last time

Eventually the track opened out to tussock river flats and the welcome sight of Oamaru Hut came a few kilometres later. It’s a big lockwood hut with a couple of dorm rooms and a big kitchen. We had the place to ourselves which was a bit of a relief. Not because we were sick of company, but because we were knackered and I could barely string a sentence together.

Tussock Flats, Oamuaru Hut

We were on our last morsels of food too…but, luckily, the Oamaru Hut larder was chocker. After an orange each and a swim in the river that involved the collection of driftwood afterwards, we headed back to the hut and lit a fire.

In true hut-rat tradition we boiled up a brew of an abandoned raro powder and chose the food we’d be eating that night while we sipped the sweet nectar of the industrial-strength sustenance. While I cooked up the last of our lentils, I got Fiona to filter the sandflies out of the bottle of wine that we’d found lying amongst the empties on the floor. It looked quite fancy but tasted like really bad sherry.

We were desperate…but not that desperate. Fiona had counted the insects she’d taken out of it and I didn’t fancy being ill by myself, so we passed on the dodgy Sauv Blanc.

Lucky larder, Oamaru Hut

As the rain started to pour we went to bed warm and full. The next day we would be walking out through Poronui Station to the Napier-Taupo Highway…and civilisation. We set our alarm for ‘Early’ and drifted off to sleep with nothing but rising river levels to worry about.

Wilderlife